How to Use Automatic Login on Mac OS X

May 8, 2016 - 6 Comments

Automatic Login in Mac OS X

Longtime Mac users likely recall that Mac OS used to log in automatically when a computer was booted up or restarted. For security purposes this has changed over time, and for the most part Macs now request a login and password in order to successfully access a Mac and whatever documents and apps are contained on the computer. Nonetheless, some Macs in secure environments, in group computer labs, or with another particularly compelling reason may wish to have automatic login in use with Mac OS X.


Using automatic login is not recommended for the vast majority of Mac users because of the theoretical security risk, as there is no password requirement necessary to access anything on the computer. Additionally, automatic login requires that FileVault disk encryption be turned off, eliminating any security and privacy benefit that feature offers. If you are going to use this feature on a Mac with any personal data or sensitive information, it is critical that you use the lock screen to mandate a password after a period of inactivity, but overall automatically logging in is simply not recommended for most computers.

How to Enable Automatic Login in Mac OS X

This requires admin access to enable, it will disable the login screen on a Mac and instead immediately access the account selected upon boot and restart:

  1. From the  Apple menu choose “System Preferences”
  2. Select the “Users & Groups” control panel
  3. Click the lock button in the bottom left corner and authenticate with an admin account
  4. Click on the “Login Options” button in the bottom left
  5. Locate “Automatic login” and choose the username to automatically log in to from the drop-down menu *(see below if feature is disabled or inaccessible)
  6. Automatic Login on Mac OS X

  7. Close out of System Preferences, the Mac will not automatically login to the account selected

If you reboot the Mac, the user selected will now automatically boot up without password entry and with no login or authentication required.

If you’re doing this on a personal Mac, which is generally not recommended, you may wish to create a user new user account on the Mac specifically for the automatic login purpose, and not allow the primary admin account to be automatically logged in.

Automatic Login Disabled, Grayed Out, or Unavailable?

You may find the the Automatic Login feature is disabled in Mac OS X, which displays as “off” and with the dropdown menu greyed out and inaccessible. There are two reasons for this:

As mentioned several times but worth repeating yet again: Automatic Login is not appropriate for many Macs, particularly if the computer is a laptop that is moved around and has the potential of being lost, stolen, misplaced, or accessed by untrusted individuals. Disabling the login screen means that a rebooted Mac could have any and all files accessed by anyone who happens upon the computer to restart it, which poses security risk to many computer users. This is really a feature that is best reserved for distinct user accounts in computer labs, or private computers in a secure location, like within a household. Even in the latter scenario, having distinct user accounts and using logins is recommended, or at least having the guest user account setup for non-primary users.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

6 Comments

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  1. Wharf Xanadu says:

    I always use a a password instead. Don’t trust losing a Mac without a password basically.

  2. You should NEVER setup a Mac to auto login. You might as well just start leaving your car unlocked too. Anyone who is too lazy to enter a password to access their computer should not having one.

    • polwirtz says:

      What if you work alone in a safe room (eg at a bank) where not even a cleaning lady comes in? Ever?

      • Jie says:

        Never seen that happen, the tellers in my bank are even require a login even when they walk away fro their terminal for 15 seconds to get a customers cash withdrawal from the central cash dispensing machine…

  3. Sebby says:

    Yep, I use automatic login. I can’t imagine a Mac *without* automatic login because the Mac in Mac OS inevitably means you’ll need the GUI apps. Even my headless Mac Mini is configured for automatic login, so apps like Arq and iTunes can operate. My screen goes dark after a minute, and I hit a key to wake it; that means I can’t use screen-saver lock either. The only exception is FileVault on a notebook: in that event the prompt appears at boot and when awaking (hibernation activates on clamshell closure with no intermediate standby/sleep). It’s my own home, so the only adversary is my dear cat, who has no regard for what I am doing on my machine as she walks across its keyboard. :)

    Maybe, if I could arrange for a password prompt to appear when I press a key, without automatically locking it, I would desire no automatic login. As it stands I’m more worried about the fact that shared iPads are single-user, and Macs are still fundamentally single-user even with multi-user support …

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